MIT Sloan’s MBA application requirements already buck the M7 standard by soliciting a cover letter and video statement in lieu of traditional written essays. This year, Sloan is also the first top tier business school to ask applicants for an organizational chart that outlines the “internal structure of your department and company.”
MIT Sloan offers candidates a sample for reference, and will allow you to create your own providing you’re as thorough as possible. Adds Sloan:
“We should be able to see your line of reporting to the top of your organization, and to easily find you, your peers, your supervisor, their peers, and your direct reports, as well as any other recommenders from your current organization.”
This is an interesting move for MIT Sloan, and it’s a great one. As a Stanford GSB Alumni Interviewer and expert coach at Fortuna Admissions, I’ve encountered countless candidates who struggle to concisely convey how valuable they are to their employers within the constraints of their MBA application. There’s no space in the resume to do this, and if someone has a really important role but an opaque job title, it’s hard to get the message across.
AN ORG CHART CAN MAKE IT CLEARER WHERE AN APPLICANT STANDS IN AN ORGANIZATION
From the admissions point of view, every applicant has a resume chock full of titles, many of which are hard to translate to a business school context. For some well-known companies or industries, it can be clearer where an applicant stands along the continuum of their organization, as there’s an obvious progression and career path. For example, if you’re someone who started as an analyst in a consulting firm, there’s a broader understanding of the typical timeframe and hierarchy of promotion. Then there are other organizations with less regimented career tracks where it can be standard not to be promoted in three to four years.
But in many other companies it’s difficult for admissions readers to discern, “how important is this person in their organization?” “Where does their department fit in?” As an applicant, you don’t want to squander valuable essay real estate on explaining it. The org chart question is a smart way to get to that.
With the introduction of the org chart requirement, MIT Sloan is really trying to get at the questions of what you do, how you interact with other parts of the company or entity, who you report to and how close you are to the top. It’s also about understanding your career path and the pace of your progression – how you’ve evolved over time, the significance of your promotions, your level of influence, and whether your movement has been upwards or horizontal. The org chart is a visual medium that offers admissions – at a glance – the context surrounding your professional position and achievements.
AN ORG CHART CAN BE ESPECIALLY TRICKY IN NON-TRADITIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
One of my clients worked for the economic development council for a major US city, in its strategy department. The option to submit an org chart in her case might have vastly simplified her storytelling strategy. Instead, we had to think hard about effectively conveying her role within the bureaucratic complexity of the city. I remember asking her to describe the whole organizational chart to me, including her relationship to the mayor. Ultimately, she said: “We’re like the internal SWAT team.” Which was a brilliant and succinct ‘way in’ for us to convey how she worked across different parts of the city and ultimately influenced high level decision-making at the city level.
That said, the org chart question can be tricky in non-traditional organizations. Another client was a senior engineer in a certain department at Apple; his job title didn’t mean anything to someone outside of the organization. To complicate things, Apple doesn’t publically publish its org chart, so it was incumbent on him to convey where he existed within the broader structure of the company. It might seem cumbersome, but for anyone looking to be a future industry leader this kind of mapping exercise can be invaluable.
Trend alert: I wouldn’t be surprised if other top b-schools begin to follow suit.
Heidi Hillis is an expert coach at MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions, as well as a Stanford GSB alum & former MBA admissions interviewer. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 13 of the top 15 business schools.